You may not necessarily enjoy the process, but one thing is certain about this rebuilding Huskies Men’s basketball team: they are learning how to close out opponents.
The Huskies narrowly avoided an embarrassing upset at the hands of a lesser manned Loyola Marymount Lions team on Sunday night. Some strong efforts by Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle, 37 trips to the free throw line, and some gritty play by Noah Dickerson in the game's final two minutes were the keys to UW’s 80-78 victory.
The game got off to an auspicious start as the officials struggled to get the game clock situated. The stands were sparsely populated with no more than a couple of dozen fans in the Dawg Pack section giving the contest an eery feeling of something more akin to an exhibition game. That bad juju seemed to rub off on both teams as turnovers, fouls and poor shooting - both behind the arc and at the free throw line - plagued both teams early on.
Eventually, the game got into a bit more of a rhythm with both teams taking turns making plays and claiming leads. The Huskies could never really get their outside game going - they were just 30% on their 3-point field goals in the first half. Fortunately, Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle were there to carry the team through the frame. The duo combined for 6 of its 9 field goals in the first half including all four of its three pointers.
The second half evened out a little bit offensively, but also saw UW’s defense become more porous. The Lions were able to shoot 48% overall and 50% from the three point line in the second half on their way to claiming the lead with about six minutes to go in the second half. The Huskies struggled to keep up with LMU’s hot shooting but were able to do so thanks to 23 second-half trips to the free throw line.
It isn’t always pretty, but UW has now developed a pattern of finding ways to win games late in second halves. More times than not, it involves muddying up the game by drawing fouls and executing defensively at opportune times. Call it grit or whatever you like, but it has happened enough times that it is something more than luck.
Sunday night was no different. The Lions carried a two point lead with less than three minutes to play (a lead that they claimed at the 5:40 mark after a ridiculous three-point and one foul on Naz Carter). The Huskies put the clamps down at that point. Noah Dickerson reclaimed UW’s lead with a pair of free throws and then carried UW to victory with some tough inside play and even more free throws.
- It’s pretty clear by now that the core of this team is the Dickerson - Thybulle - Nowell trio. The threesome carried the team again today scoring 51 of UW’s 78 points including six of their eight three pointers.
- Thybulle, in particular, continues to perform much of the dirty work for this team and, along with Dickerson, was the most willing of UW defenders. He had another 4 blocks on the night giving him 20 on the season - 10 more than any other small forward or guard in the conference.
- The two teams combined for 61 total free throw attempts in the game. While it was hardly aesthetically-pleasing to watch, UW took advantage by earning 11 more trips overall and gaining a seven point advantage in free throws.
- The David Crisp experiment at PG is one that is likely going to continue to give UW fans heartburn for the rest of the season. This was not one of his better nights as he finished with just 6 points on 2 of 11 shooting (1 of 7 behind the arc). The good news is that his 6 assists to one turnover looked kind of point guard-ish.
- Dom Green was a noticeable DNP today.
- The UW bench overall was a big net negative for the Huskies. Only three players - Hameir Wright, Naz Carter and Carlos Johnson - got minutes in the rotation. Each posted a negative +/- for their time. Johnson only logged four minutes. I’m guessing that such a limited rotation wasn’t exactly the plan coming into a game against a lowly rated Loyola Marymount team.